By Jeremy Vannatta, Big Sky Economic Development
Over 200 miles away from the closest Bakken well, the city of Billings has quickly become one of the largest providers of goods and services to the Williston Basin area. While many Billings-based companies have been doing business for many years in the Williston Basin, numerous new small businesses and major corporations alike continue to reach out to the area in hopes of finding a niche to serve.
Big Sky Economic Development (BSED), the agency responsible for economic development efforts in Yellowstone County, Montana has made it a priority to connect with businesses in the Billings area with cities like Sidney, Glendive, Williston, and others. Back in 2011, for example, the organization brought a full bus of local business owners, city officials, and legislators to Sidney and Williston to get a first-hand view of opportunities and challenges the communities were facing – from infrastructure to workforce to a cultural shift. With local officials, the group of about 45 people visited new developments, housing projects, and a Target Logistics crew camp. The group then spent some time learning from local business owners of the renewed opportunity the area continues to hold. After that visit, the tour group identified several priority action items to determine how the Billings community could assist and support those communities and the companies doing business.
Since that initial trip, Big Sky Economic Development organized two more bus trips, which shaped a continued understanding of how the oil industry is changing and the products and services that are most needed. BSED also fostered several other meetings for healthcare facilities, land developers and others. For example, the Billings Chamber of Commerce/ CVB hosted a visit to the Williston Basin to develop tourism opportunities. Often, oilfield employees and local residents look to Billings for events such as Magic City Blues, a three-day blues festival in downtown Billings; shopping; or a quick jaunt for a weekend getaway. More than ever, the Billings Chamber/CVB creates guest packages and markets to this particular target audience. Recently, Tom Rolfstad, Williston Economic Development’s executive director, spoke in Billings at BSED’s annual meeting and later designated Billings their Community Partner of the Year.
But the Bakken’s growth is not limited to just extreme eastern Montana and western North Dakota. Billings is growing because of the Bakken and other oil plays. Many oil workers are moving their families to Billings and commuting to work the Williston Basin for 10 to 14 days at a time. They enjoy the superior quality of life that Billings has to offer and the high pay that the Basin offers. Not surprisingly, the Billings housing market continues to tighten as home inventory remains low. And, the number of new home construction permits continues to climb as businesses move to Billings to service the Bakken boom. In fact, Canadian- American Homes Structures, or CASS, launched operations in Billings to build manufactured homes and other structures that will be used in the Bakken. Under a current contract to build hundreds of units, CASS continues to hire new employees.
Indeed, Billings is strategic to energy and the community is a vital partner in the play.
About the Author: Jeremy Vannatta is the director of recruitment and marketing for Big Sky Economic Development. Reach him via email at email@example.com or by phone at 406.869.8416.
Find out more about Billings at www.thinkbillings.com.by